The Bar Council has responded with guarded enthusiasm to the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto pledges on access to justice.
“Neither main party will protect the Ministry of Justice budget, but judging from today’s manifesto pledges from the Liberal Democrats, it looks like politicians are finally addressing the legal profession’s concerns about access to justice,” chairman of the bar Alistair MacDonald QC said. “In a week of manifesto launches, today feels like it is third time lucky.”
“At least some of the concerns voiced by the profession are being heard.”
Access to justice gets significant coverage in the Lib Dem manifesto, where it is described as ”an essential part of a free society and a functioning legal system.”
The document continues: ”In this Parliament we have had to make significant savings from the Legal Aid budget, but in the next Parliament our priority for delivering efficiency in the Ministry of Justice should be prison and court reform, using technology and innovation to reduce costs.”
Though there is no promise to reverse legal aid cuts, among the hard pledges made by the Lib Dems are a review of the criminal legal aid market and an assurance that “there are no further savings without an impact assessment as to the viability of a competitive and diverse market of Legal Aid providers.”
There is also the promise of an “immediate review of civil Legal Aid, judicial review and court fees, in consultation with the judiciary, to ensure legal aid is available to all those who need it, that those of modest means can bring applications for judicial review of allegedly unlawful government action and that court and tribunal fees will not put justice beyond the reach of those who seek it.”
“This will mean reversing any recent rises in up-front court fees that make justice unaffordable for many, and instead spreading the fee burden more fairly.”